California Bill Targets Boreal & Tropical Forest Loss

A groundbreaking bill introduced today in California is tackling one of the most pressing environmental issues we face—the continued loss of climate-critical boreal and tropical forests.
Boreal Forest in Ontario

A groundbreaking bill introduced today in California is tackling one of the most pressing environmental issues we face—the continued loss of climate-critical boreal and tropical forests. The image of burning forests in California has now become a symbol synonymous with climate change, the unearthly orange glow across the skies of Northern California heralding a new era of climate destruction that will only worsen without urgent, transformative action. Yet forest loss around the world isn’t just a symptom of climate change, but also a key driver, and today, California Assemblymember Ash Kalra has introduced a landmark bill that, if passed, would play a pivotal role in protecting two of the world’s most precious forests—the tropical rainforests and the North American boreal.

Assembly Bill 416, which is co-sponsored by NRDC, Friends of the Earth, Social Compassion in Legislation, and Peace 4 Animals, addresses the role that the California government’s consumption plays in driving the loss of these two forests, requiring that all state contracts involving certain forest-derived products ensure the contractors have policies in place to prevent deforestation, primary forest loss, and violations of Indigenous rights. This bill takes the important step of recognizing the interconnectedness of our consumption here in the U.S. and unsustainable forest destruction, and puts in place key safeguards to protect these climate-critical ecosystems.

Forests like the Canadian boreal and the Amazon are indispensable in the fight against climate change. The boreal and the Amazon are the two lungs of the earth, regulating global temperatures through absorbing and storing carbon dioxide and converting it into life-giving oxygen. Each year, forests absorb one-third of our greenhouse gas emissions, buying us critical time to transition to a decarbonized future. While so many are turning to Silicon Valley to craft carbon-eradicating solutions to the climate crisis, our primary forests are already there, providing efficient, cost-effective climate mitigation, as they have for millions of years.

Unfortunately, these forests are under threat, facing global pressure from markets for toilet paper, palm oil, beef, lumber, and other products. This bill is a critical step in curbing those unsustainable markets, pushing contractors to ensure California is not contributing to the loss of our remaining intact forests or violating the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Importantly, this bill does not only address the catastrophic impacts to forests in the Amazon, where an area one-fifth the size of California is lost every year, but also encompasses threats to the Amazon’s northern sister, the Canadian boreal forest, which is no less important for the global climate, biodiversity, and Indigenous Peoples.

The boreal, which crowns North America in a deep green landscape of pine, larch, birch, and spruce, and is home to over 600 Indigenous communities, is the most carbon-dense ecosystem on earth, second only to mangroves. Storing twice as much carbon as the world’s oil reserves, the boreal is an indispensable ally in the fight against climate change. The Canadian boreal also harbors some of North America’s most treasured creatures, including providing a nursery to billions of migratory birds that, from California to Maine, herald the onset of spring and the coming frost during their journeys to and from their boreal summer nesting grounds.

This bill recognizes the irreplaceable value of the boreal and the need to elevate it alongside the Amazon in forest protection efforts. While Canada has cultivated a strong global reputation for environmental stewardship, allowing it to avoid the scrutiny of countries like Brazil, the Canadian logging industry’s impact on the climate, along with wildlife, is globally devastating. Each year, industry logs more than one million acres of boreal forest to feed demand for paper, tissue, lumber, newsprint, and other products. Canada falls just behind Russia and Brazil in annual intact forest landscape loss, even when losses caused by wildfires are removed. This industrial logging is taking a devastating toll on the climate, which Canada is neither adequately accounting for nor regulating. Because Canada has not incorporated the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into its laws, Indigenous Peoples are also not guaranteed the right to free, prior and informed consent on their traditional territories, meaning industrial logging is often at odds with First Nations’ wishes for their lands.

Clearcut logging in Ontario
Credit: River Jordan for NRDC

This bill aligns California with growing calls from the international marketplace to end the loss of our climate-critical forests and secure the rights of the Indigenous Peoples who live there. Companies are facing increased scrutiny from customers and the financial sector to distance themselves from unsustainable forest supply chains. Last October, in an unprecedented move, 67% of Procter & Gamble’s shareholders voted in favor of a resolution requiring the company to report on actions it’s taking to address deforestation and intact forest loss in its palm oil and tissue supply chains. This resolution, which financial giants such as BlackRock supported, signaled that forest loss is no longer an acceptable cost of doing business and that P&G and other companies need to embrace solutions to transition to production models that prioritize forest protection.

Tropical Deforestation

California has served as a climate leader on so many fronts—on carbon regulation, clean fuel standards, electric vehicles, and so much more. However, solving climate change requires not just a decarbonized future, but urgent action to protect the world’s remaining intact forests and secure the rights of Indigenous Peoples. This bill, if passed, would position California as a transformative champion for protecting our climate-critical forests and ensuring that we are not sacrificing these vital ecosystems for our toilet paper and shampoo.

Other states, municipalities, and the federal government should now follow California’s lead, acting fast to change the outlook for our forests. From the lush tropical forests to the majestic boreal, the fate of our forests is inextricably tied to the world’s--and to the products we consume here at home.